I do not wish to start a political discussion about the situation in the Middle East or about religion, but the truth is: lots of people are currently suffering from a situation they did not choose to be part of. What I do wish to emphasize is that even in dark times, there are people out there willing to help others, and actually going to lengths to do so. This is the story of such a person: Genna Rourke.
In September 2015, Genna, mother of two, found the refugee situation in Europe heart breaking and decided to do what she could for the refugees living in the refugee camp in Calais in France. She wanted to collect a couple of bags of clothes and some food and drive from Liverpool to Calais, hopefully with a friend or two. She spoke to people in the camp online to figure out the best way to help them. She had set up a Facebook page for it too, which a couple of people joined: the Liverpool/Wirral Calais Refugee Action Group.
After a day or two, the local newspaper in Liverpool picked up the story, and this was where the roller coaster ride truly began. Within a couple of hours after their article had been published online, more than 800 people had joined Genna's Facebook page, wanting to help out. Within 24 hours, 25 so called drop off points were set up in the area: companies and bars where people could drop off clothes and food they wished to donate. Several people offered to be runners, picking up donations from people's houses and bringing it to the drop off points. Genna had to rush to find storage space, because some of the drop off points couldn't handle the amount of donations coming in.
From her contact in the camp, Genna had learned that the best way to deliver goods was as organized as possible. So after a mass sorting event in the local TV studio, where dozens of people sorted and boxed up all donated items, a convoy of six cars and vans went to Calais. After coming back from France, Genna was more determined than ever to continue helping refugees. With the knowledge she now had, she could help in a more efficient way. She made a deal with a local 'cash for clothes' business to sell the donated summer clothes and high heeled shoes, she found more storage space, continued to collect clothes and set up a crowdfunding campaign. She also decided to give her group of volunteers (which is what it still was) a name: MerseyAid.
MerseyAid started extending their help to local people in need and refugees arriving in the Liverpool area. And after the second trip to Calais, MerseyAid extended their help to Greece. Several pallets were sent to the Greek islands, and MerseyAid has even managed to send some dry suits to rescue workers (directly to the actual people who rescue drowning refugees from the ocean).
To me, these are all amazing achievements in just four months’ time. But Genna is still moving forward, and very much on top of what’s going on. While the Dutch news sites reported about people in Syria freezing and starving to death only two days ago, Genna had already started planning getting donations to Syria a week ago. I asked her how this all came about, and her answer basically was “I talk to a lot of random folks online”. I think this sums up how Genna managed to run all this: she is passionate, unbiased and down to earth, which helps her to get in touch with a lot of people and to achieve a lot.
Genna hasn't slept much since she started the project; she has achieved all this as a working mother of two young children. She doesn't make any money from MerseyAid.